Weather's Role in Hunting
Weather conditions play a big role in where animals will be at a particular time of day. Sounds simple doesn't it? Weather conditions force wildlife to develop habit patterns to deal with existing weather. Deer seek relief from summer heat and winter cold that is outside their normal comfort range.
During the extreme heat of summer animals take refuge in shaded areas to escape the heat. The animal still experiences heat, but at a lower temperature than if he was standing in direct sunlight. Ambient or prevailing conditions are measured in degrees of thermal heat. Thermal cover describes areas that provide either heat retaining or cooling conditions through naturally insulating vegetation which can provide protection from extremely hot or cold temperatures. That's why we see so many deer and elk on a sunny south slope on a cold winter morning.
In the winter deer play a game called survival. If they win, they are
allowed to see spring again; if they don't win they are not allowed to see
spring again. A hard winter and age are pushing this buck to the limit.
Deer populations are scattered throughout North and South America and temperatures throughout their range vary from extreme cold to stifling heat depending on where they live. Through centuries of natural adaptation they have learned to survive within their natural range. Deer favor residing in the thermo-cover that provides them with temperature protection required to maximize their comfort in a given temperature range.
Hunters who have a basic understanding of thermo-cover principles that deer live by can narrow down locations where deer will be found in their core range. Thermal protection is more important than food or water. Deer can live for extended periods without water or food, but they must seek protection from the elements to conserve energy in order to survive.
We have the ability to control our environment which deer do not. They must move to an area that provides a more moderate temperature and adjust to that temperature. Animals such as deer keep food and water sources in mind as they move during a cold morning to an open south slope where the wind is blocked. They'll look for a terrain feature such as a large rock on the slope above them to radiate additional heat. In snowy areas the snow may be deep in open areas, but the first snow to melt and provide access to food is on southern slopes. The opposite is true in the summer where deer can be found on a ridge where a breeze passes through the thermal shade. Follow the trails into these areas and you'll find deer.
Many times a big buck will only feed once a day in cold weather, and he can
fill his 1st of 4 stomachs in 45 minutes, and then back to cover and his warm
protected bed. This trait provides minimal energy consumption and maximum energy
intake at the same time. They make their journey in the late afternoon usually
when the temperatures are the warmest. This buck's body language says he is on a
mission and doing it as quick, and using as little energy as possible.
Deer will herd together during extremely cold weather in thermo-cover to conserve precious energy and feed once every 24 hours in the morning or evening. The animals normally travel after first light so the radiant air temperatures drain less energy from their body while they travel in search of food. Younger animals don't have the body mass to wait for extended periods between meals. They will find the best thermo-cover close to their main food source. Now you have the formula for finding and predicting deer locations at specific times during the day.
Bad weather is your friend when hunting deer, but it works against the deer. They must deal with the weather and you can use it to your advantage to find them in thermo-cover that is close to their food source. When they move between these areas they will be deliberate, feed and return to cover. Their movement may only be during a short period, but most deer will appear like ghosts on Halloween and disappear into thick cover again as soon as they can. Determining the thermal value of an area to animals is as simple as getting out in the weather and learning how animals utilize thermal cover when weather fronts approach. Knowing how your herd reacts during adverse weather is the key to hunting success.
Feed and quickly return, is what's on this northern whitetail's mind.
Under these conditions they are out traveling little but are less
alert while traveling than they were in October.
Wind is an important aspect of thermal dynamics because it can play a larger role to some animals than extreme cold when trying to determine their location. Wind depletes valuable body heat. The less cold air passing over, under and around an animal lessens the dissipation of valuable body heat. During hot summer months, wind helps cool the animals and keeps insects from taking up residence on the animal's body. Insects can hamper the birth process and antler growth.
During the winter, potentially dangerous winds can be a mixed blessing to herd animals such as deer and elk. Snow drifts can inhibit herd movement, but they also blow new snow and uncover food sources allowing the animals to feed. Deer will "bed up" during a storm and let the wind blow snow off of food sources saving energy in movement and searching for food.
This buck although in good shape as the rut ends knows to find feed in
deep snow sometimes he must push the snow away to get to the old summer
feed. That is how he has learned to survive the winters.
We've looked at temperature extremes and wind as tools that deer use to improve their temperature control. We've looked at how wind is used as a tool to move snow off of a slope to uncover food sources. Deer and elk use these tools to survive over a large habitat area all year long. Successful shed antler hunters expend their major efforts on south slopes where the deer spend the majority of their time in the late winter when they drop their antlers. Monitoring weather and understanding how it affects animals is a major key to predicting their movement. If a hunter wants to be successful hunting deer or elk he first has to know where to find them.